THE PAINTED LADY OF ELYSIUM edited by Jane Coryell
Story Outline: “The Painted Lady of Elysium” is a 72,000 word YA Fantasy book written by Rebekah. The story is set in Toronto, ON but it wasn’t until their art class field trip to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, that thirteen-year old Kate and her best friend, Quinton, discover the World of Huetonia.
With the use of alabaster and hessonite jewelry, the kids enter into a three-dimensional world hidden inside paintings created with Da Vinci’s specially formulated gel medium. These paintings of Huetonia, connected by an intricate network of gondola trolleys that travel along suspended cables, are the world’s greatest secret. Realizing that art galleries are actually busy gondola stations full of world travelers is a shock to the best friends, considering they grew up in the prestigious Gethers Art Gallery of Toronto.
To add to their astonishment, Kate discovers that her ancestors helped develop the Huetonia Rapid Transit Gondola System and her Uncle Cedric, the man who raised her, was born in a surveyor’s tent under Emily Carr’s painted trees. The biggest revelation, however, is that she is not an orphan after all. Her mother is alive and living in Elysium, a utopian fantasy world located in Van Gogh’s painting of Bedroom of Arles.
In order to understand her family’s story and the reason for all the lies, Kate and Quin travel the gondola system to Elysium to uncover the biggest secret of all. There, Kate finds a piece of her shattered identity.
Chapter 1: The Painting Above the Dresser
The painting stared at Kate.
“Did you see that?” Kate nudged Quinton. She was pointing at the portrait on the wall.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t see anything,” Quinton replied, uninterested.
“No really, that boy in your painting just winked at me.” Kate stood up to take a closer look. “There… see? He did it again. Didn’t you see it?”
“You’re such a dork.” Quinton didn’t even look up from the hockey magazine he was casually flipping through on his unmade bed. The pillow flung across the room hit him on the head, forcing him to pay attention to his best friend.
Kate stood by the dresser with her hands on her hips as she stuck her tongue out at Quinton in a mock scowl.
Kate wore a plain white t-shirt that fit her girly curves and cut-off jeans. Her hair was pulled back in a low ponytail and she wore a light blue headband holding back her bangs. Kate was no “plain-Jane”. She had boys buzzing around her vying for her attention while she defined the measure for the self-consciousness all the other schoolgirls. They were all attracted to her simple beauty. Not fussy or overdone, she was down-to-earth, approachable and not even aware that she was queen of the schoolyard hive.
For some unknown reason, Kate never recognized her own popularity within her social circle. That was part of her charm. Her friends were in awe of her creative abilities and often put her on a raised pedestal. While those around her were attracted to her artistic talents, inside, Kate felt shy, awkward and uncoordinated, never believing in her own gifts. She was always unsure and forever second-guessing her actions. Her friends took this as humility and loved her even more.
It was only in the presence of her best friend, Quinton, that she could really relax. The twosome sat in his small bedroom filled with sports paraphernalia. This room was a typical teenage boy’s room, complete with dirty clothes strewn about. In spite of the mess, it was clear that great care had been taken with the room’s interior décor. There was designer bedding in a nautical blue, coordinated with mahogany furniture straight out of an Ethan Allan catalogue.
Everything in Quinton’s room was top of the line and trendy except the painting that hung above the dresser. Oddly out of place, it was definitely antique and painted in the impressionistic style of Renoir. The frame, however, was new and matched the room’s modern design.
Straightening his glasses, the boy grimaced, “Hey, you made me tear Sydney Crosby’s face!”
“You didn’t see him wink?” As she searched the canvas surface for any hint of movement, Kate’s nose was now millimeters from the painting of a boy holding a fishing rod.
“You are totally losing it!”
“No I’m not. I swear! I saw it. The boy in this painting moved. I’m not making it up.”
By this time, Kate had lifted the corner away from the wall and was peering up behind the frame at the striped wallpaper. “Where did this painting come from anyway? It doesn’t really fit in your room with all your hockey junk. This painting is kind of old-fashioned. The boy is actually wearing breeches. Kind of tacky, don’t ya think?”
Turning back to his magazine, Quinton shrugged.
Quinton was small for his age and always had a difficult time keeping up with the larger, more athletic kids. He was an athlete in his heart but his body and coordination often held him back in his athletic pursuits. Instead, he overcompensated by big talk about his ever-growing collection of sports memorabilia. He often invited the other boys over to admire his autographed collection of hockey cards and talked as if he was an NHL expert. The other boys simply rolled their eyes and tolerated his quirkiness just because he was Kate’s best friend. At an early age, Quinton discovered it was much easier to relate to girls since they didn’t have the competitive edge of testosterone.
“It has been in my room ever since I can remember. You know how my mom loves old paintings. I guess she thought it would be perfect for a boy’s room.”
Finally, Quinton looked up at the painting and smiled with a distant look of sentimentality. “I remember when I was really little, I used to pretend the boy was my brother. I always wanted a brother, you know, someone who I could play ball with. But all I’ve got is my stupid sister, Tara. The less time spent with her the better, I always say.” He twisted his face in disgust. Kate’s face echoed the same sour expression, as she wasn’t fond of his older sister either.
“I imagined we would go fishing at the beach down the road. Sometimes at night, I could hear the waves of the ocean from the background of the painting. It would put me to sleep.”
“Oh, that’s so cute. How sweet,” Kate sneered, as the assault pillow catapulted back in her direction. She caught the soft cushion and tucked it under her arm as she lowered herself onto the upholstered window bench. “At least you have a sister.”
Kate spent her entire life wishing for a family but the one thing she longed for most was out of her reach. Kate was an only child raised by her great uncle. This left Kate envying anyone who lived in a traditional, two-parents-2-kids-and-a-dog family. She desperately longed for a sibling.
With the painting temporarily forgotten, Kate sighed out of boredom. “Well, if you are just going to read your silly magazine all night, I’m going to go. Uncle Cedric thinks I am doing homework in my room, so I better get back before he figures out that I snuck out.”
“OK.” Quin put down his magazine and looked up. “You are going tomorrow, right?”
“What? The annual Gethers’ family beach barbecue? Ya, I was planning on it. That is, if I am still invited.”
“Course you’re invited. Don’t be daft – you come every year. Mom wanted me to ask if your Uncle Cedric will be joining us this year?”
“No. You know Uncle Cedric. He doesn’t like the beach heat. Will your Aunt Matilda be there?”
“Of course, who else would bring dessert? Why?”
“Don’t you find her kind of irritating the way she stands so close when she talks? She’s so doughy and sugary sweet. I swear that woman sweats vanilla. She always manages to corner me to tell me all about her crafts. Like I really care about the latest hooked rug that she’s working on.”
“She just thinks you would be interested since you are so artsy and all.”
“There’s a big difference between being “artsy” and being “crafty.” How many quilting-bee stories do I really need to endure? She just goes on and on and on… You just like her ‘cuz she brings you your favourite cupcakes. Why do boys always think with their stomachs?”
“Mmm… chocolate with butter cream icing.” Quinton smiled his glossy-eyed stare as his lips smacked. “No one else adds the melted Mars Bar nougat in the centre like Aunt Matty does.”
“Well, if I have to endure another discussion on the difference between crocheting and knitting, I am going to scream into her sweet-smelling face.”
“That’s not very nice. Why don’t you go kick a kitten? Com’on, she’s family.”
“Ya, family – not a word I know much about.” Kate listlessly thought to herself, taking back her insults. This disconnect from any strong family ties was the source of her constant inner self-doubt. Kate never really knew where she had come from. Natural questions of her heritage brought vague answers that did nothing to give her a firm foundation to stand on.
Around the large Gethers family, Kate was always reminded about how small her own personal familiar ties really were. With both parents long gone, Kate’s only blood relative left was old Uncle Cedric who had taken her in as a baby. Sure, the Gethers had unofficially adopted Kate into their family as their godchild, but Kate was left only to dream about her mother and father, aunts and uncles or any extended family, who simply didn’t exist. Kate often wondered what it would be like to have someone else share her genetic make-up.
“Fine! You know I’ve got your back as always. I will distract Aunt Matilda for you. But you have to watch my back with Craig.” Craig was Quinton’s worst nightmare at family gatherings. Cousin Craig was just a couple of years older than Quinton and his mother was always throwing them together so they could “chum.” But just after his mother was out of sight behind the barbecue, Craig would taunt and tease Quinton. He would chase him around the sand and give him a painful wedgy with the all the other kids rolling in laughter.
“Deal.” Kate promised and stood to open the window. “See you tomorrow then.” She took one last glance back at the old painting above the dresser. She was now convinced she had imagined the winking boy in the portrait after all. Then she climbed out onto the windowsill, reached across to the large branch of the old oak tree and jumped down to the lawn.
Quinton watched her from the window, always amazed by his best friend’s agility, then waved as she ran down the street into the darkness.
FROM ASHES edited by Jane Coryell
Story Outline: “From Ashes” is a 58,295 word fictional work based on the life of the author’s friend.
“And they lived happily ever after.” The storybook closes and the real living begins. But what happens if the “ever after” doesn’t turn out to be “happy”? Life is not a fairytale and the “ever after” can sometimes be unpredictable and run completely out of control. Sometimes the “ever after” can also be long and lonely.
Fairytales are stories, made-up, fiction that gives people hope of an idealized existence. They comfort the soul when anxiety about the future sets in and life takes on the putrid colour of infested mud. We make up these fairytales and tell them to our children so that they grow up believing in a secure world that is always bright and cheerful. The ending in storybooks is always happy, making children believe that anything is possible. It is better than telling the innocent a truth that they may have to endure with heartache and pain. Who would do that to an innocent child?
But like a vicious predator, age stalks any child and in the blink of an eye or the snap of a finger, that child becomes responsible for the world it creates. Their innocence is blown away like a scrap of paper in the wind.
We tell children that dreams are possible but in reality, everyone has to journey through treacherous mountains, cross oceans full of ominous sea creatures, battle dragons all on their own just to possibly reach their intended destination. There is never a guarantee of a safe arrival.
With this new revelation, Anna screamed into the night. “This is not how the story goes!” She cried into her sweaty palms. Suddenly, she grabbed with fury at the storybook that lay on the bed and hurled it across the room. It hit the wall with a loud thwack.
Alarmed by the sudden noise, Hudson began to wail as Gemma, the big rottweiler sleeping at the foot of the bed, jolted with a bark. “Quiet, Gemma!” Anna ran to Hudson’s side and scooped him up from the blankets. “Shhhh, It’s okay, Hudson. Mommy’s so sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.” She rocked and cooed until the little boy felt secure again. Gemma continued to growl.
“Looks like it’s going to be another long, sleepless night, eh buddy?” The baby looked at his mother with wide eyes. His tiny hands reached out and brushed Anna’s wet cheeks. She gently took his hand and kissed his tiny fingers. The big black dog finally calmed down with the commotion forgotten and she curled up by the door.
“I wanted so much more for you.” She whispered with a sob. “This is not how my life was supposed to go.” She thought back to when she was a child, nursing her baby dolls and dreaming of the traditional family she longed for. A baby boy needs a daddy to love and care for him, to tell him right from wrong, to be a model of how he’s supposed to grow into a loving father, to love his mother with a passion… to give him security. “Everything was stolen from you before I even knew you existed.” The images of her past flew by with bitterness and angst. She swallowed all her negative emotions and slowly rose from the bed.
“Let’s get something to drink,” she mumbled, trying to convince herself that everything was normal in the dark room. Hudson just squirmed in her arms wanting only to escape, to be free, to run. Anna inhaled deeply and blew the air out slowly. She reached for the door handle. “Ok, here we go,” she encouraged her nerves.
She gently nudged the dog out of the way of the door with her foot. The door creaked as Anna looked along the hallway. She looked left. Then she looked right. With heightened senses, she tried to visualize their safety. The light in the hall was too bright and hurt her squinting eyes. Cautiously, mother and child emerged from the small room. Creeping slowly, Anna carried Hudson down the short corridor as Gemma left their side to find her water dish in the dark beyond.
“Gemma, come!” The urgency in her voice startled the dog and Gemma quickly returned to her mistress’ side. At the end of the safe circle of light, Anna hesitated and looked out into the blackness. Familiar forms of the living room furniture slowly defined themselves and her eyes began to adjust. She tiptoed forward. “Hang on, Hudson.” Just like any wide-awake, wiggly baby, the little boy fought against his mother for his freedom. Anna struggled to hold his weight.
Abruptly jerking her head, she looked at the front door as the floor squeaked beneath her feet. She stopped to listen. “Gemma, quiet.” The world stopped with her to listen for the danger. After the brief moment of silence, her heart receded from her throat. Taking another few tentative steps, she looked around the room. “Just a few more steps.” She thought as she moved swiftly to her target.
With a flick of her wrist, the familiar room came to life with bright light from the small chandelier uniting with the safety of the beam of light from the hallway. Anna released a bit of the tension with the breath she had been holding since they had left their small dark roomed sanctuary. Somehow the light briefly calmed her soul. If only nighttime weren’t so dark.
Hudson was placed into the high chair and given a few Cheerios as the dog lapped up the water from her dish. Anna prepared a mug of milk and placed it in the microwave to heat. As she waited, she bit her nails and surveyed the room looking for anything out of place.
Every corner of this room was haunted with memories. There were the obvious family photos covered with a slight coat of dust even though they were meticulously wiped daily out of Anna’s need for distraction. This was the kitchenette purchased with him. Every dish screamed with memories of the day they had registered at The Bay.
The microwave beeped and Anna jumped. She took out the steaming mug of liquid and added a touch of cinnamon. From months of practice, she unlatched the high chair tray with one hand, juggled Hudson onto her hip and reached for her mug.
“What was that?” Anna anxiously spun to find the source of the noise as Gemma growled low. At nighttime, the house moved and groaned with sounds not made in the daytime. “Quiet, Gemma.” She paused to listen and only heard the sound of her own heartbeat. Hudson echoed the same anxiety as he nervously looked around the room for the source of the upset. The silence continued and Anna finally began to slowly take in oxygen again.
Anxiously, she continued into the empty living room and sat down on the recliner. She placed the mug on the side table as Gemma licked up a small spill of the warm white liquid. Looking around the room, the young mother sat back and opened her housecoat to offer her breast to her little one. Eagerly, Hudson began to suckle. She rocked her baby trying desperately to soothe herself as well with the rhythmic motion.
This room was also haunted. Over in the dark corner, there was the plant his mother had given them. She contemplated the unused fireplace with the brick they had chosen together. Never again did she want the flame to remind her of many romantic nights. She looked over at the sofa. It was not “her” sofa, but “our” sofa. She sadly wondered if the place where she lived would ever feel like a safe welcoming home again. Was she destined to live the rest of her years feeling like a stranger in someone else’s life?
“Did you hear that?” Anna nervously looked around the room again as the big black dog perked up and growled. Her heart began to pound. She looked out into the black night and saw with bitterness the soft first flakes of snow beginning to fall. With a gasp of horror, she looked away not wanting to remember.
Full of nervous energy, Anna’s body was tired from the daily strain of keeping constant vigilance. No longer able to keep the tiredness at bay, she finally settled her body into the recliner, nursed her baby boy and waited, wide-eyed, for the other shoe to drop.